French President Emmanuel Macron has pledged to invest €1.5 billion in artificial intelligence (AI) by 2022 in a bid to make France a world leader in the field.
The public investment is part of a wider national AI strategy to drive innovation and help France catch up with the United States and China. The strategy, which the president presented on Thursday in Paris, also seeks to reverse a trend of “brain drain,” whereby French professionals leave the country in favour of jobs at U.S. tech companies.
“We have to be in a position to build, in France and in Europe, an artificial intelligence ecosystem,” Macron said in a speech on Thursday at the AI for Humanity conference hosted by the College de France research institute in Paris.
The plan stems from recommendations in a government-commissioned report by Cédric Villani, a French mathematician and lawmaker in Macron’s centrist La République En Marche party.
Macron said the plan includes €100 million in funding expected in the next few months to help launch start-ups, with the goal of securing an additional €500 million from companies in the private sector. The plan also allots €400 million to competitive calls for proposals. Officials said additional details would become available in the coming weeks.
One of the plan’s central goals is to decrease the number of professionals leaving France to work overseas, often at tech giants in the U.S. Macron said the plan would establish a national research program with roles designed to draw experts and researchers to France.
The plan also seeks to use AI technology to improve efficiency in state-owned organisations and calls for the opening up of data collected by organisations such as France’s centralised healthcare system.
“The timing couldn’t be more perfect,” Alessandro Curioni, director of IBM Research in Zurich, Switzerland, told Science Magazine on Thursday. Curioni, who attended the event in Paris, added, “We are becoming awash in data and we simply can’t keep up. The only answer is AI.”
Macron said privacy concerns must inform France’s approach to AI, with ethics and open data playing a central role in the plan. In his speech, the president said, “We should have a policy of open data,” and “have to think on the subject from a political and ethical point of view … to come up with a common understanding and rules.”
Macron added that the strategy must avoid “opaque privatisation of AI or its potentially despotic usage,” according to Science.
The president also said that part of the French funding would go to joint projects with Germany. German Research Minister Anja Karliczek backed France’s call for European countries to support innovation in the AI sector. “German and French companies need to become leaders in the face of Chinese and American companies,” Karliczek told Politico.
The tech industry appears to have taken note of Macron’s efforts to make France an AI leader. On the day of the conference, companies including IBM and Microsoft announced plans for new investments in France. IBM said that over the next two years, it would recruit 400 AI experts in the country, while Microsoft unveiled a $30 million investment to promote the development of AI in France over the next three years.